“Higher Learning” by Evan James Sheldon

I went out front and found my father drinking vodka and Mountain Dew and haphazardly watering the lawn with a hose. He had already had a couple, I guessed, as he was spraying water everywhere and laughing. He kept on laughing when he noticed me.

There’s no way you’ll understand those. They’re too dense for you, or you’re too dense for them! he said, making a rude motion with the hose. Get something lighter or make yourself lighter. 

I hugged my copies of the Vaimānika Śāstra and the Drona Parva to my chest and went to the woods. I tried not to think about what he said, but I found myself following his orders incidentally.

I caught large butterflies and sewed them to my arms. I built an elaborate structure that cast a staircase made of shadow and tried to climb behind the sky. I yelled at low-lying clouds as if to control them. I wooed a golden eagle as if he were a potential lover covered in feathers.

I went home, exhausted, and found my father passed out on the lawn, water still running. My mother had taken over. She was holding the stream in one location on the lawn that was overrun and water poured over the sidewalk. The stars were out and the water looked like oil. She didn’t seem to notice, but she did notice my books and my arms.

She rolled up one sleeve to expose dozens of dead butterflies. I never could wrap my mind around those either, she said.

I turned off the water, brought her inside to the kitchen table, and laid out the books. She brought more and more until the table was filled with all that we didn’t understand. Tell me everything, I said. We spoke of gods and flight and dreams long into the evening, only occasionally interrupted by my father’s snoring outside. Our thoughts floated up and up and up until the whole house threatened to rise and crack the foundation.


Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared recently in the American Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, and Lammergeier. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com.


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